Blog Post

The iPad May Change Computing, Just Not Your Life

The first time you walk into an Apple Store and pick up an iPad, you’ll understand the hype: Apple has managed to create a beautiful, thoughtfully designed, compelling product in a space where mediocrity was, until now, status quo. But odds are you probably won’t buy one — at least not yet. And that’s OK.

For despite the high level of anticipation for and proclamations associated with the launch of the Apple device, the fact remains that outside of a few select vertical uses (like medicine), tablets are constrained by their own form factor, stuck in the nether realm between productivity and portability. Standing onstage during the device’s unveiling, Steve Jobs himself posed a question that acutely underscores the tablet dilemma: Is there room for a third category of product that sits between your two most essential devices, the laptop and phone? As much as I’m looking forward to the iPad, I’m still not sure there is.

To date, no one’s been able to scale tablets as a core personal computing product, though it’s certainly not for lack of effort. Just about every player in the electronics world has given tablets a go, from Nokia with its Maemo-based N-series Internet communicators to Dell with its Android-based mini-slates to all manner of Windows-based convertible and slate tablet PCs. But the problem with all of them — and the iPad may also be included — isn’t that they’ve been unable to offer fundamentally differentiated experiences from the devices we already own and carry.

Think back to the iPod — before it existed, there wasn’t such a thing as taking your entire music (and eventually, video) library with you wherever you went. But the concept proved to be so elemental that it transcended the iPod as a device, and became a staple in nearly every product Apple makes, from iTunes on the Mac to the iPhone. In his iPad launch presentation, Jobs seemed pretty clear about the fact that the iPad won’t replace your phone or laptop (at least not any time soon), and yet Apple has still been deficient in demonstrating more than scaled-up iPhone experiences (like browsing, light email, and gaming) or scaled-down desktop experiences (like iWork).

Of course, it would be a failure of imagination to assume there won’t eventually be something built on the iPad platform that simply couldn’t be hosted on a phone or laptop. But so far Apple hasn’t shown it to us, which may be why so many are still lukewarm on the device’s prospects. This also might be why iBooks was January’s dark horse announcement — it was the only app Apple showed off that seems to call out for the iPad by name. But long-form reading is still arguably better suited to devices like the Kindle and Nook, which benefit from E Ink displays, while shorter-form media (namely periodicals) went all but ignored by Apple, which punted to publication-specific apps like the New York Times reader. Had Apple attempted to create a new, ubiquitous, standard format for magazines and newspapers, and leveraged its sales infrastructure for subscription content, the iPad might have been hailed as the iPod of publishing.

There’s no question Apple has (re)defined the tablet dialog and raised the bar for the space moving forward. For browsing the web, the iPad experience is second to none; the product itself almost seems to melt away, leaving the user to feel as though they’re literally reaching in and touching the content. And by the time the iPad’s price drops in a year or two, Apple may be able to parlay a groundbreaking product into a market leadership position. But in the mean time, the countdown to launch has begun and Cupertino’s set its sights on building yet another market, we’ll have to see just how many people are ready to put their money where Apple’s tablet is.

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Ryan Block is the co-founder of gdgt and the former editor in chief of Engadget. Disclosure: gdgt is backed by True Ventures, a venture capital firm that is an investor in the parent company of this blog, Giga Omni Media. Om Malik, founder of Giga Omni Media, is also a venture partner at True.

144 Responses to “The iPad May Change Computing, Just Not Your Life”

  1. I do hope that now, after being able to use, work and enjoy the iPad that you feel that it is becoming an essential tool in our daily lives.

    I love mine as it enables me to write and work from any location that can receive a 3G signal, which is most of the world.

    With 600+ apps hitting the App store every day the experience grows richer and easier.

    For functions that we cannot accomplish easily on our iPads we now have remote viewers that allow us to access our PC or laptops to work directly from there via our iPads.

    Are they perfect? Not yet, but then what is?

  2. I absolutely LOVE my iPad, am glad I bought it and would buy it again. Is it perfect? NO. But it allows me to be away from my desk, as I am now, and still stay on top of my industry, correspondence, and writing.

    The apps are what make it unique, add content, functionality and fun. I look forward to the iOS 4.2 due out in November that will take it to the next step, allowing even further usage in the workaday world.

  3. If BMO Capital’s Keith Bachman is right (only time will tell) this new tablet/e-reader classification has a combined 2010 sales potential of 11 million units. He estimates Apple taking 35-40% of it. By January 1st 2011 the argument should be settled! Now, if they could just put a kickstand on the iPhone so I can stop propping it up against my old Dell MP3 player!

  4. Paul Calento

    There is tremendous untapped demand for the tablet form factor … and an elegant device and “it just works” functionality are major pluses … even in the business market A Sybase-sponsored survey conducted by Zogby International to over 2400 respondents ( showed that half that answered a question about iPad use cases said they would “use an iPad-like tablet for ‘conducting work on the device.'” This looks to be a (consumer) device that transcends consumer and business markets, even with a consumer-first push … just like the iPhone. About Me –

  5. one thing that some people here are forgetting is that the iPAD still requires a computer to connect with. So people who think it will “replace” computers for users who find it difficult to use a normal PC or Mac are not going to be able to avoid using said computer. I have a Mac and an iPhone and love both. As far as I can see, this is a marketting ploy to get cashed up techies to buy another gadget for their desk at work. Still, I guess it helps the economy!

  6. There’s no difference between 27 and 21.5? I bought 27 as a TV replacement for my small flat. I wouldn’t do that with 21 even when it does the same thing.

  7. I would think that the thing that will be elemental to the iPad and therefore every other device like it — using that transcendence trope you use — is currency.

    Mobile banking is picking up on smartphones, but I would think that the iPad is your one-stop hub for currency, a wallet that is also the device you use to buy, trade, sell, arrange, take out loans with, etc. It’s going to be a banking product.

  8. Apple will have the same effect on the tablet market as it has on the mobile phone market. There were some reservations with the iPhone when it was first introduced, but years later, it is still taking off. Sales are rising and a study from Crowd Science found 39% of blackberry owners said they would switch to an iPhone if making another phone purchase.

    The point is the potential is there for the iPad to succeed. Tablets will become increasingly popular over the next few years and Apple will likely be one of the leaders in tablet sales and popularity. As with the iPhone, apps will be one of the main factors in the iPad’s success.

  9. Michael Bazeley

    These flame wars are ridiculous. Some people will buy the iPad because they want it; others won’t. To each his own. Why does anyone care what anyone else does with his money?

    • mgriscom

      Good question!

      I wouldn’t mind, except that Apple pisses me off by selling very expensive, very pretty but otherwise sub-standard hardware and lying about Microsoft in a way that encourages people to make dumb decisions and therefore puts them at risk.

      It’s a little like saying, what do we care that some people believe the crap Glenn Beck puts out? Because, we suffer the consequences, and it’s very insulting to think that he hopes we believe his blathering.

      Apple ads are similarly insulting to people who think for themselves.

      • Why is it that so many brainwashed Apple-lovers prefer the well-integrated, relatively trouble-free, stylish solutions that Apple sells instead of the cheaper competition that is so much more versatile and challenging to configure and use?

        Don’t these people know that poring over spec sheets, cobbling together options, skinning the UI, and solving compatibility issues is the best part of owning gadgets? These Apple people just don’t get it. Stupid idiots who can’t think for themselves.

        I’m tired of wasting my time trying to convince those lemmings. I have better things to do like defragging my hard disk and reconfiguring the multitasking settings on my Droid. Have a nice day suckers!

  10. sakurama

    Are you an idiot? You need a flashlight to read a Kindle in the dark! What kind of stupid idea was that? Holy cow that’s like building a car you have to push to move – the size of that oversight is like an ocean.

    You have no idea. It’s going to be huger than you know. I have so many needs for this thing I can’t wait.

    Canceling my magazine subscriptions and reading them online where interactive video is at my pace.

    Reading at night.

    Light computing when I don’t want to take a laptop like for a weekend trip.

    Putting my entire portfolio on it and sending it to clients. Finally a book that does video.

    Wow, talk about missing the point.

    • mgriscom

      @sakurama – why would you spend the extra money, when you can do EVERYTHING you describe as values to the iPad, but for less money, and with far, far more capability, security and sophistication, with a new laptop running Windows 7?

      You worship at the altar of Jobs, I guess.

      • What he just described is an untapped subcategory. Sadly many wont see this until long after Apple runs away with it and their favorite company comes out with an exact clone

        btw did you also explained to Kindle users how useless the Kindle was when they can just lug their Windows 7 Laptops with them for bedtime reading?

  11. limoman

    “Like I said earlier, Apple makes great high-quality devices and I have nothing against Apple users. But anyone who is looking to get the most out of their tablet should wait for one of the many android or windows 7 devices being developed.”

    As opposed to the Ipad that is out now with 175,000 apps. Are you talking about the android tablets running 1.6 or 2.0 or 2.1? Are you talking about the android market that is very loosely monitored so that half the apps i get dont work well or need to be force closed all the time or the ones that deliver malware? Maybe you are talking about the HP slate which will have only a few things optimized for touch and is essentially the same as other full OS windows tablets that have never sold before or maybe you are talking about the windows 7 tablets that wont be out for 9 or 10 months and even then will have only a few apps and may take years to catch up in the app market? And wont have flash or cut and paste.

  12. limoman

    At the risk of feeding the trolls I am always amused that those who who think that anything Apple does is a failure simply because it doesn’t do do what “they” think it should and therefore anyone who uses an Apple product is obviously stupid.

    As I stated in a previous post I have been using an android phone and for all its supposed advantages over an Iphone i have been finding lots of faults.

    Brain surgeons need lawyers. They took time to go to med school not law school. I am not a techie but that in no way makes me stupid i just have other things to do than to spend all my time tinkering with my electronics. It’s one area that i just want to work. The simpler the better even though i could do it if i chose to. Yes it’s great for the older set but my guess is there are lots of very bright and astute folks out there who embrace and love the internet and all its possibilities who will find its simplicity its most appealing feature.

  13. EXACTLY MY THOUGHTS! I couldn’t have said it any better myself!
    Everyone I have spoken to for the most part will not be buying one. The only group of people who I feel apple is targeting, is the older generation. The ones who hate the internet and computers. The ones who still go outside and pick up the paper at 4 am and read it over a cup of coffee. None of this is a bad thing, just a way to capture that audience.

  14. amolpatil2k

    iPod was successful because it ushered in the sweet spot between albums and P2P i.e singles for a dollar. iPhone is successful because Apple was successful in preventing the OS from splintering. Mostly all AppStore apps work on mostly all devices. iPad would be successful because we need a larger screen to preserve our sanity but also portability to preserve our time. Webcam, connectivity options etc would come later when sales start slackening.

  15. alansky

    “…outside of a few select vertical uses (like medicine), tablets are constrained by their own form factor, stuck in the nether realm between productivity and portability.”

    I could not possibly disagree more. Just wait and see, bro’. The iPad will make sliced bread look like a niche product.

  16. I just can’t believe people are genuinely impressed with the iPad. As an iPhone owner I see it as little more than a size boost of a device I already have. It still can’t run multiple appications, it still has icons that I cannot modify or resize, and the specs are barely better than a laptop I bought over 5 years ago. Pass.

  17. It’s true that Apple will be the innovator here, they will push the device and the tech deficient will enjoy it a great deal.

    Then someone else will come along and pick up that device and make it better, add more features, allow more freedom of use, allow it to work on multiple carriers, and sell it for $100 less.

    Apple fans will always be loyal apple fans, but the rest of us will judge the devices by what they can do and punish those that intentionally restrict theirs just for the sake of doing so.

    Just like the iPhone is bleeding market share to android phones which actually allow you to do whatever you want on whatever carrier you want.

    • ” iPhone is bleeding market share to android phones” Really? Which Android phone on AT&T has more the 1% market share? The Nexus One barley shows up on radar and the droid is on Verizon with no iPhone options. Talk about comparing Apples to Oranges.

      Lets talk MP3 players. No carrier bias. Lots of MP3 players have more features than the ipod but they continue to be also rans in the MP3 market space.

      • I’m not talking about AT&T’s overexerted network. I’m talking about all the other networks. Because there are actually phones that work on other networks besides AT&T.

        Right now, Apple is starting to resemble the kid that got beat up in high school and suddenly finds himself with just a bit of power later on in life. And Instead of trying to fit in to the existing world, Apple creates its own kind of private and very sheltered club. But instead of valuing it’s customers first, it rules it more tyranically than big blue brother ever did in any superbowl commercial.

        As consumers become more informed and more frustrated with Apple’s ridiculous policies, you will start to see more and more people flocking to less restrictive phones.

        You are right about the Nexus one, if Google were to advertise it properly and show what it can do vs what the iPhone cant (or isn’t allowed) then the phone would really start taking off.

        I can use a nexus without a data plan, on any network I choose, and run anything I wish on it without voiding my warranty (or getting it bricked by apple in an update).

        The same thing will happen with the iPad, there are already contenders lined up in rows ready to offer more features, lower prices, and the devices you buy will be owned by you, not apple.

        Like I said earlier, Apple makes great high-quality devices and I have nothing against Apple users. But anyone who is looking to get the most out of their tablet should wait for one of the many android or windows 7 devices being developed.

  18. limoman

    Realist, what is it about your Iphone that you do like? There are plenty of ATT phones out there that will let you watch HULU so why is it that you stick with the IPhone? The only reason I ask is because I think it is a great showcase of the question of whether there is a third market for this thing. It’s interesting that you might base your buying decision on lack of Flash alone and one website. I for one could absolutely care less about Flash on it but it goes to show that everybody has different opinions about what is useful to them. I thank you for using a reasonably argument rather the the “no Flash=Epic fail” argument that I have seen so much. The only place I have some disagreement with you is the 199 price. Yes obviously there will be more adoption if the price is lower but there comes a point when, if Apple is pricing all their products at the same price as all the cheapest things out there, their R&D will suffer and the quality of their products will have no value over any other product. I would think a slight premium is worth the best touchscreen or the longest battery life or a great UI.

  19. TheRealist

    The Ipod revolutionized the world of digital music because of it being able to connect you to legitimate downloads is actually not the reason why the Ipod was successful.

    The real reason the Ipod was successful was because it was the ONLY sanely priced product Apple put out. It cost the same as the other mp3 players in the market. It may be anecdotal, but at the time I looked at the mp3 players on the market and thought “Hey it has the same functions the others have (sans FM tuner), and it’s the same price. Why would I not buy it? It’s shinier! ooo oo!”

    Oddly enough, I think the EXACT same thing happened to the Iphone. When ATT dropped their prices down to something sane (99-199.00) Apple’s sales went up.

    All of the technology aside, Apple knows how to make a good product, probably better than most. They know it, and they ALSO know that when they release a product, they price the hell out of it (500 bucks for entry on this device is INSANE), and all the key celebs and fanboys with money will buy it. Then they will drop that price to something normal which the rest of us can afford. I think the cost of the IPAD will stop it from being smashingly successful at least initially. However, in a year, when Apple drops the price to 199, I think it could really take off.

    With one caveat… the other thing that could stop this from being truly ubiquitously successful in the device market is that they don’t support Flash.

    Hate it or love it, it’s here. Apple simply is not big enough to dictate the technology of the Internet, nor should they. The closed system will keep the adoption rate of the Ipad as a novelty, but it’s not going to be the thundering ubiquitous product that the well priced, well developed, mp3 supporting, Ipod was.

    My initial thought when I watched the keynote was “Hey, that would be a great device to use to watch HULU in bed at night without disturbing my wife or lugging my desktop replacement laptop to bed.”

    But, alas, no flash based hulu.

    My Iphone drives me bananas that I can’t see videos that people post, and the utterly inane idea that “well, Flash sucks and EVERYONE should be using HTML5 (which, it seems like every time I hear is still “at least two years off”) Youtube to post videos, or the cancerous Quicktime” is just hubristic at best and downright wishful at worst.

    The wish is to tighten the wonderful anarchy which is the Internet is a bad thing.

    But I have no pretense that Apple will ever support flash. If they did, they would lose control of their money making app Store overnight. Like it or not, Flash IS that powerful.

    The Ipad could be one of the most successful products they have if they made it 199 and allowed for the internet to be viewed as it really is and was meant to be, with all of it’s quirky technologies in tact.

    • No flash is the no keyboard or replaceable battery argument that was going to make the original iphone to fail. A vocal minority cried bloody murder while the majority said “Oh shiny” and pulled out their credit cards. Would Apple sell more iPads for $199 , hmm let me think about it. Would Porsche sell more cars for 20K? If you only have $199 you buy a netbook and drive a Hyundai. That isn’t a bad thing. There is plenty of room for Hyundai’s and netbooks. They don’t even compete for the same buying audience.

  20. limoman

    Multitasking? I keep hearing the lack of is such a drawback on the Ipad. I do not work in the tech industry nor do I have a job in which I need a portable computer on a daily basis but even given that I wonder about the true value of multitasking.

    I hear things like “wouldn’t it be great to have Pandora running while I’m working on a spreadsheet” or “wouldnt it be great to have the web open so I can research for the article I’m writing”

    Are all these people doing work in a coffee shop or on a park bench or on a bus where they have no other options? At the office you have desktops and at home you have home entertainment systems. Is it necessary to be that productive everywhere you can possibly be? I think it’s ironic that those who say it’s too simple and is hardware poor and OS poor are asking for simple in only a different way. I want one thing that does everything….simple. But the Ipad does not exist in a vacuum. There is no way to duplicate the experience of watching an HD movie on my 52″ plasma with full surround sound in my living room so if I’m on a plane and want to watch a movie will i be upset that i cant have full HD on my portable where i would never notice the resolution difference anyway?

    No matter if you could play Crysis at a decent frame rate on this thing or if it did 3D rendering or could run 27 apps at once it has a 9″ screen. If you make these things with 15 or 17 inch screens they no longer are really portable and if you make them with 4 or 5 inch screens might as well stick with your smart phone.

    I hear the argument that it needs a full desktop OS and then people saying that they don’t translate to touch very well and that’s why previous tablets haven’t sold and that certainly makes sense to me but i think the more relevant argument is not that full OS tablets haven’t sold but that Desktops with touch haven’t sold. It seems fairly obvious to me that no matter the hardware if the UI isn’t designed to take advantage then it wont sell.

    I own an HTC Hero and the one program i use all the time is the app killer i have on it. As a matter of fact app killers are one of the most downloaded programs on the Market. Sure I can run all those programs at once and I know how to get into the processes and do all the fancy stuff on it but it takes just as long to do that as to simply close one program and open another on an Iphone or I assume Ipad. For all it’s openness and multitasking Android suffers the same problems as consumers found with MS. It’s just not as intuitive or simple at the Apple ecosystem.

    I predict it will sell extremely well to just about everyone except the tech industry